Pfizer sues San Diego court employee, claims she stole 12,000 files, some related to COVID vaccine
Pfizer Inc A longtime employee is sued for allegedly stealing “dozens” of documents — including some related to the company’s COVID-19 vaccine — while preparing to jump into a competitor.
In a complaint filed on Tuesday in San Diego Federal Court, Pfizer said Chun Xiaoli violated its confidentiality agreement by uploading more than 12,000 files without permission to personal accounts and devices from the company-issued laptop.
The alleged material includes a September 24 “evidence” containing internal evaluations and recommendations for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Pfizer’s relationship with its German vaccine partner, and presentations related to cancer antibodies.
Pfizer said Lee, the assistant director of statistics, repeatedly tried to cover her tracks, even giving a laptop a “bluff” to hide what she had done with the files.
The New York-based drugmaker said Lee “misled Pfizer about what I took, how I took it, when and why I did it, and where to find these files (and possibly others)”.
Pfizer said Lee has resigned after 15 years at the company, and appears to have an offer to join Xencor Inc. — a clinical-phase company with offices near Carmel Valley — focused on treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Pfizer also has an office in San Diego, near Torrey Pines. Xencor is headquartered in Monrovia.
Li cannot be immediately reached for comment through her LinkedIn account. Xencor, not the defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
Pfizer said competitors have been trying to hire its employees “relentlessly, especially during 2021.”
In an order issued late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Kathy Ann Bencivengo — a federal judge in the Southern District of California, based in San Diego — temporarily barred Lee from using Pfizer’s trade secrets.
She added that the company’s lawyers could review accounts and devices it may have stored.
The judge set a December 9 hearing to consider a longer injunction.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stemple in New York, with additional reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Leslie Adler)